Democracy can be costly, but is it too costly?

There are few things worse than feeling you don’t have a representative on your local council, at the state legislature or in Washington, D.C.

Elk River residents have felt that on occasion — to put it mildly — at the state and federal level, but rarely at the city level.

The Elk River City Council will put this tradition to a test with its recent decision to appoint a council member rather than go out for an election.

It’s hard to argue against its decision when council members stared down an $8,000 to $15,000 bill for a special election.

So why don’t I feel better about their decision?

Probably because there’s nothing better than a candidate who has knocked on every door of their ward in hopes of getting your vote and the vote of your neighbor.

Those face-to-face meetings establish the beginnings of good, solid representation. Combine that with all the candidate forums, voters guides and meet-and-greet sessions that typical elections produce, and it’s no wonder why the citizens can feel real good knowing the electorate has picked who they want.

To their credit, city staff and the Elk River City Council recognize the challenge they face. City Administrator Cal Portner has laid out a process that tries to include the Ward 1 population in the process. It’s a nice gesture and should help.

But in the end, it will come down to a decision of just a few council members and Elk River Mayor John Dietz.

For this exercise in something other than true democracy, I hope some really solid applicants emerge.

Whoever is picked will have to prove to the voters the council made a good decision. And the council will have to prove it made a good decision on behalf of the Ward 1 voters without selfish motives.

Deep down I wish the council had put their faith in voters to exercise their right and responsibility.  I understand a special election will cost a lot of money, but maybe it would be worth it.

All the other arguments didn’t hold much weight in my mind. To think that voters in Elk River wouldn’t rise to the occasion is an insult to the good citizens of this fine city.

Voters in Elk River have been blessed with qualified candidates, and I am sure they can attract a few good ones for the soon-to-be-vacant Ward 1 council seat.

Residents have made good decisions at the polls and are savvy enough to fend off any flakes who might see a special election as an opportunity to sneak past the voters. They’re out there.

Maybe the state of Minnesota and the Minnesota Legislature should look at systemic changes that would take the financial burden off of cities faced with these situations, so the decision could be based on what’s best for voters and not taxpayers’ pocketbooks.

For now, we wait to see who emerges as candidates and put our trust in the Elk River City Council that has to make a decision for all of Ward 1. — Jim Boyle, editor

 

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